Dozens of people attended a legislative forum, sponsored by the Arkansas City and Winfield area chambers of commerce, for the Republican candidates for the Kansas House District 80 seat.
Incumbent Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, and challenger Anita Judd-Jenkins answered several tough questions from the audience, ranging from gun control and education to transgender bathroom rights and how to correct the state budget.
The education discussion started when the candidates were questioned about a piece of legislation proposed last year under which low-income families with children in under-performing schools could send their children to a private school, the cost of which would be funded at 70 percent.
Kelley defended the legislation, saying, “These are children trapped in the most failing schools in Kansas. Not failing as I identify them, but as the Kansas (State) Department of Education identified them…
“They have no other choices. They are from single-parent families that make very little income who want desperately for their children to see a different future than what they have. I support those children.”
“It was raised to 185 percent of what is considered the low-income level that you could raise and still qualify,” Judd-Jenkins countered.
“I have not seen that there is a restriction, that others cannot utilize this. Taking the funds, the 70 percent — our public school systems are struggling. If we allow our public education funds — our tax dollars — to be siphoned off for the infrastructure of other programs, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, as far as I am concerned.
“Because the public schools we own, they are ours, they are our children, they are our structures and we have to pay for them.”
When questioned about whether to bring in additional federal tax dollars and expand Medicaid, Judd-Jenkins said she feels like the privatization of Medicaid has added another layer of bureaucracy between taxes that have been paid in and the people who benefit from the program.
“As a result, our state has been able to reduce benefits for those that benefit. Those are the elderly who are in nursing homes that have run out of money,” Jenkins said. “They are not just people on welfare. They are our elderly and our infirm.”
“I wish it were that easy,” Kelley responded. “I truly do, because it would make this issue a whole lot easier to solve.”
“If you have watched Kansas government and if you have watched federal programs,” she continued, “if you remember the American (Recovery and) Reinvestment (Act) dollars that were taken some time back… You need not look further than Kentucky, Indiana and so many other states that have tried different variations of this and see what their budget is now.”
Kelley went on to explain that while the federal dollars come back at a high match at first, they eventually go away and the state is forced to raise taxes to “back-fill” the new obligation. “Once you raise to a certain level — your health care or anything — people are used to it,” she said.
Kelley said that while it would be good for Kansas at first, eventually the state would have to raise taxes substantially to back-fill once federal funding dried up.
Questioned regarding her involvement with a mailer that had negative statements regarding Judd-Jenkins, Kelley clarified that candidates are not allowed to coordinate with the organizations that send those out.
“I have seen those,” Kelley said. “And I always — whether we are talking about my opponent or myself — I always catch my breath when those come in the mail because those are third-party pieces. We are not allowed by law to coordinate third-party pieces. So you don’t know if they are coming out or not.”
She went on to state that she was not familiar with the group that put the mailer together.
“I’ll tell you this, I’ve had some come out on me that I didn’t like,” Kelley said. “But it’s part of the political process, and as we reform things, it’s another piece to reform.”
“If you look them up, you can see their main source is the Kansas Chamber of Commerce,” Judd-Jenkins said. “I do not believe in negative advertising. I reject it and I do not wish to participate in any way or have others represent me in that fashion.”
This is the first part of a multi-part story covering the House District 80 Republican candidates forum.